Croatian President Stjepan Mesic and the visiting US Vice-President Dick Cheney met in Dubrovnik on Saturday for talks on overall relations between the two countries, the situation in the region, the reforms Croatia was implementing on the road to EU and NATO membership, and Croatia's contribution to the global fight against terrorism.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mesic said he informed his guest of Croatia's desire for the countries of Southeast Europe to be given an opportunity to join the European Union as soon as possible, adding that Croatia, as a regional leader, would make its contribution to the effort by being the first to meet the EU and NATO membership criteria.
Mesic said that they did not discuss the controversial Article 98 on the non-extradition of US troops to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but that he highlighted Croatia's role in the NATO-led peace mission in Afghanistan, saying that Croatia was making the maximum contribution there.
According to him, the US Vice-President welcomed Croatia's involvement in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and its plan to increase the Croatian contingent in mid-2006 from the current 50 to 150 personnel.
The Croatian president said that they also discussed the situation in other regions, especially the crises in the Near East, which were said to be generating global terrorism as the hardest problem of the modern
Asked when Croatia would get an invitation to join NATO, Mesic said they did not talk about dates, but added that Croatia indicated the year 2008 as its strategic goal.
Commenting on the poor support of the Croatian public for the country's NATO membership bid, Mesic said that this was a passing phase and that the country would get the necessary public support for both EU and NATO membership. He pointed out that all countries that had entered the two blocs benefited from it.
"NATO is not just a military alliance, it is an organisation that protects and promotes some of our civilisation's values. Croatia belongs to the European civilisation and obviously our place is in the NATO alliance," Mesic said.
After the meeting, Cheney took a stroll down Dubrovnik's main street, the Stradun, and went on a sight-seeing tour of the old part of the city. He met Mayor Dubravka Suica, who presented him with a statute of St Blaise, the city's patron saint, and 18th century documents recommending establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States.
In the evening, the US Vice-President is due to meet Prime Minister Ivo Sanader at a dinner, while on Sunday he is scheduled to attend a meeting of the heads of government of the US-Adriatic Charter member states - Croatia, Macedonia and Albania, which is the main reason for his visit to Dubrovnik.